Kick-Start Your Holiday Baking with These Delightfully Rich GFCF Cookies
Photo Credit: Caleb Zahnd, flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0
Halloween always kicks off the holidays with jumbo, freshly carved pumpkins, spicy molasses cookies and warm apple cider. That’s what I remember from the days before going gluten free. As a child, my parents always whipped up a large batch of caramel popcorn balls that we passed out to trick-or-treaters.
When my sons came along, there were:
- contests for the best costume or carved pumpkin at school or boy scouts
- haunted houses
- bobbing for apples
- hot cocoa with marshmallows floating on top
- loads of holiday parties
That was my life before celiac disease entered and changed everything.
While many celiacs are able to continue the type of lifestyle they had before, I am not one of them. As a super-sensitive celiac, I react to the gluten in body-care and hair products, the flour that hangs around in the air after baking, or even someone eating bread or cookies at the same table or in the same room with me. Social gatherings are extremely difficult due to the potential for gluten cross contamination.
The holidays are nothing like they used to be.
I have tried to replace as many of life's little pleasures as I can. Those replacements help to make life feel more normal and less exclusive. I also devote a lot of spare time to converting recipes to be gluten and dairy free. It’s a challenge for me because it can take weeks to perfect a recipe.
Even leaving a gluten-free cookie in the oven for an extra minute or two can leave you with cookies that go hard overnight or quickly dry out and crumble within a day or two.
The struggle to get something just right can be frustrating at times, so I’m grateful that these surprisingly good gluten-free molasses cookies were not like that. In fact, they turned out to be the best gluten-free dairy-free cookies I’ve made in quite a while.
Gluten-Free Molasses Cookie Tips
Photo Credit: Kricket, flickr.com, license CC BY-ND 2.0
While gluten-free baking used to be confined to only those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, or gluten allergies, today's baker may find themselves wanting to learn how to bake for their gluten-free relatives or friends. Gluten-free baking is quite temperamental, so I like to focus on easy gluten-free cookies that give me the option of adjusting the batter to fit the humidity of the day.
If you choose a recipe like this one that lets you roll the dough into balls, you can add additional gluten-free flour a tablespoon at a time until you arrive at the proper consistency. Although you want a gluten-free dough to be moister than traditional dough, without the right amount of gluten-free flour mix, the cookies will spread too thin while baking.
Humidity will add extra moisture to the dough and make it impossible to roll it into balls. So will the type of flour you choose to use. Brown rice flour is similar to white rice flour, but does behave a bit differently in baked goods, I've found. Superfine rice flour will also make a difference, since it tends to absorb more liquid than regular rice flours. Although the super-fine stuff is my go-to rice flour now, I do have to use 1 to 2 tablespoons less of flour per cup called for in the recipe.
You want to add just enough gluten-free flour mix to roll the cookies in your hands, but not enough flour to make the cookies dry and tough. Too much flour, and your cookie won't flatten at all. Balls also result in a nice-looking, presentable cookie for holiday entertaining or a fancy Christmas plate.
These gluten-free molasses cookies are made with shortening rather than butter. Shortening is what keeps them soft and chewy. If you want a crisper cookie, simply substitute butter for the shortening, use half white sugar, and cook them for an extra minute or two. Those tricks will give you a gluten-free gingersnap cookie.
These cookies were also designed to be just spicy enough to flavor the rice flour without being overpowering as so many molasses recipes are, but make sure that you choose a gluten-free brand of pumpkin pie spices. Similar to a Snickerdoodle, they are far more festive and tasty made this way. If you want them soft and chewy, make sure you don’t over bake them. It's always better to slightly under-bake a gluten-free cookie by a minute or two than it is to over-bake them.
In addition, I also like to try a test cookie or two out before I pop a whole batch into the oven. Testing the batter will grant you the space to make adjustments, if needed. Flat cookies may require a little more xanthan gum, gluten-free flour mix, or both. While xanthan gum is mainly to hold the cookies together, it also provides structure and rise. Cookies that don't flatten enough, may require a tablespoon or two of water or orange juice, but I've never experienced that problem with this particular recipe.
The Gluten-Free Flour Mix I Used
One of the lessons I’ve learned from my gluten-free baking experiments is that the type of gluten-free flour mix you use can make a big difference in the outcome of your baked goods. Since there are different consistencies that range from stone-ground rice flour (Bob's Red Mill) to a finely-ground rice flour (Authentic Foods, Dakota Prarie, and most rice flours you purchase in an asian market) the type of flour mix you choose can affect the result as well.
If you're not familiar with gluten-free baking, you might find my Beginner's Guide to Gluten-Free Flours helpful. It includes one of the best homemade gluten-free flour recipes I've tried, but I didn't use that recipe for these cookies because I wasn't eating anything with corn when I first created them.
While I’ve recently been experimenting with King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Flour and the awesome finely-ground white rice flour from Authentic Foods, for these particular cookies, I used the following cornstarch-free gluten-free flour mix, but any all-purpose gluten-free flour mix will work well with this recipe.
- 1-3/4 cups white rice flour
- 1/4 cup brown rice flour
- 2/3 cup potato starch
- 1/2 cup tapioca starch
Gluten-Free Molasses Cookies
Photo Credit: Vickie Ewell
- 3/4 cup shortening
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups gluten-free flour mix
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1-1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spices
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spices
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the shortening. You could also do this in the microwave. Set the shortening aside to cool.
- Once cool, pour the melted fat into a large bowl. Add brown sugar, molasses and eggs. Beat well.
- In another bowl, combine gluten-free flour mix, baking soda, xanthan gum, spices and salt. This needs to be stirred very well, so the vegetable gum is distributed evenly.
- Pour the flour mixture into the sugar mixture and stir to combine. If it’s a bit sticky, that’s okay at that point.
- Form the dough into a ball with your hands and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Overnight would be even better. You want the dough as cold as possible.
- When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil.
- Combine the white sugar and pumpkin spices in a small bowl.
- Test the dough to see if you can easily roll it into a ball about the size of a walnut. The dough should be a bit sticky, but not so sticky that you can’t form a nice looking ball. If the dough is too sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it’s easy to roll.
- Roll the balls in the spicy sugar to coat well and place on the lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch them closely. You want them set, but not too brown.
- Allow them to sit on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Additional Tips for Gluten-Free Newbies
Gluten-free cookies do not have to be completely cool before you store them. Unless you want them crispy, it is better if they’re not. As soon as they are firm enough and cool enough to handle, I place the warm cookies into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, in a single layer, to finish cooling. A couple of quart-sized bags will do in a pinch. The steam produced by the cookies will help to keep them soft.
You could also place them in a rectangular or square Rubbermaid container that has a tight-fitting lid. These cookies will stay soft and fresh for several days sitting on the counter, but you can also freeze them and thaw as needed.